My son, now 23 years old, sleeps across the room as I write. I'm visiting him in Jamaica, where he's spending three months as part of his Thomas J. Watson postgraduate fellowship. He spent last night on a boat with a friend he'd met a few weeks ago in Kingston. Though he was out of my sight, I was cool with it, no sleepless night for me, no constant pacing to deal with the nervous energy of an absent child. But this wasn't always so.
Many years ago my son's mother decided not to send him back to me in Seattle after her winter break visitation. See "The Bleeding Never Stops: When You're Child is Taken by Someone He Loves" for more background.
When your child, who you've raised solo for years, is suddenly wrested from your care it doesn't matter that his other parent is finally expressing a desire to parent her child, what matters is that your world as you've known it has been destroyed. And so you do something about it.
But thirteen years ago, I hardly knew what exactly to do. I felt completely powerless, I saw no solution to this dilemma. My child was taken to a very different state, where he would be watched at every moment, his mother had told me not to try and get him -- that everyone knew to keep him there.
I don't sleep much on the best nights, so knowing that my son's room was empty denied me of any chance of rest. I kept getting up to walk into his room, as if he might be in his bed, having fallen asleep to "Dark Side of the Moon" like he had for a couple of years. Irrationally, I'd pull the covers up and speak to him, delusional that he was beneath that comforter and not tucked in over 3,000 miles away.
But each morning revealed no magical manifestation -- my son's bed remained vacant. Worse, I learned that my position, so logically one of power, possessed many flaws. We had a flimsy parenting plan, I'd moved states, losing jurisdiction, and we possessed less connection with Washington State than his mother's home state. The fact it was in the conservative "mother first" south only exacerbated my dire reality.
My new lawyer told me as much. He also informed me that, given the above, the longer my son remained out of state the stronger his mother's case would become. To this day, I know if I had let my son remain in his mother's care for even a little while, he would never have lived with me as custodial parent again.
My lawyer put together a document for a local judge to approve that stated my son's rightful place was in Washington State, that I had the right to collect my son from his mother's house. The judge was wrong to sign this affidavit, such interstate jurisdiction to collect my son simply didn't exist. But he had signed the document. This paper became my greatest asset. Like my son's covers, I would check the judge's ruling constantly, skeptical that it existed at all.
I next hired the "biggest and baddest" legal counsel in the southern state, establishing a retainer for well over $10,000. Like my Seattle lawyer, the southern counsel felt I had clearly been wronged and that is was my right, if not within my rights, to collect my child immediately. Unlike my lawyer in Seattle, my southern lawyer was considered one of the top family lawyers in his state, cocky and ruthless in his pursuit of custody, regardless of moral digressions in getting there.
While I would normally prefer the company of my Seattle counsel on any given day, I greatly preferred the actions and instructions from my southern lawyer. I would call to listen to his obscenity-laced rants about my son's mother the way others might call a 900 number, even though I was paying considerably more than $.99 a minute.
In between these rants, we began to formulate a plan to recapture my boy. This strategy would include surveillance, finessing the police and launching a verbally aggressive confrontation, all elements that were diametrically opposite to my normal personality. Combat metaphors infiltrated my psyche, as did previously detested overblown terms like "at all costs" and "by any means necessary."
My life had transformed into a Bruce Willis vehicle. I spoke of nothing else but "the plan," played endless scenarios out in my head and tried to keep cool when on the phone with my son, who spoke of his new existence of exclusive schooling and doting relatives as if he'd been given the keys to Disney World.
It was almost time to fly to his mother's city and launch the operation on what would become the scariest day of my life and, quite possibly, my son's life until, that is, he recently faced child militia members pointing semiautomatics at him and shouting at him in Portuguese during part of his study in Brazil. Fortunately, I only learned of this tonight.
To be continued...
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